Moonfall (US/UK/China, 2022)

February 03, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Moonfall Poster

Oh, the humanity! If the pandemic precludes one person from seeing Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, then it has accomplished something positive.

For two hours, I sat in a movie theater in a state of utter stupefaction. How, I wondered, did this movie get made? Did someone discover a lost Ed Wood screenplay, update it and dumb it down, then vomit enough money at it to make the effects look passable? How is it that the script manages to be less intelligent, less insightful, and less aware than the TV programs watched by my two-year old? And how long has it been since I have subjected myself to something this awful? Moonfall is two hours of unrelenting boredom – an experience so mind-numbing that the sound and fury (signifying nothing) are cheap and unfulfilling on the most primitive level. Pieces of excrement aren't this foul even when ground underfoot and dragged into the house.

With the worst movies, I often try to find something (no matter how small) worthwhile about the production. With Moonfall, there’s nothing. I guess I could laud the fact that it’s in focus, but there’s an argument that the images being shown are so substandard that it doesn’t matter. The story is awful and the science is worse. The characters are plastic and the actors look like they’re embarrassed (as might be expected given the dialogue they’re required to recite). The special effects are anything but “special.”

Moonfall opens with a prologue that introduces two of the main characters, astronauts Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) and Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), on a space shuttle mission where an argument about the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa” seems more important than the job at hand…or an impending disaster. Jumping ahead a decade, we catch up with these two in Earthbound circumstances – Jo is a NASA bigwig and Brian is a burnt-out drunk who has lost his wife and son and is about to lose his home. They are reunited when scientists discover that the Moon’s orbit has shifted and it’s on a collision course with the planet. Jo’s team figures out a possible solution but she needs a hot-shot pilot like Brian to make it work. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), believes what’s going on with the Moon validates his conjecture that it’s an artificial satellite (with a captive white dwarf star trapped inside providing energy). He somehow worms himself into the inner circle as hasty preparations for an emergency moon landing are finalized. (Where’s Bruce Willis when you need him?) Meanwhile, a group of irrelevant characters, including Jo’s young son and Brian’s estranged juvenile delinquent child, Sonny (Charlie Plummer), encounter some bad people on the way to a safe location. (Their reason for being in the film appears to be to provide convenient you-won’t-miss-anything bathroom breaks.)

It’s headache-inducing to think about Moonfall in any depth because the film defies conventional logic. Writer/director Roland Emmerich’s penchant for making schlocky disaster porn movies (including, but not limited to, Independence Day and its sequel and the infamous 1998 Godzilla) is well-known but he has outdone himself here. The basic pseudo-science underpinning of Moonfall is so idiotic that even self-respecting flat-Earthers might distance themselves. Emmerich gets pretty much every detail about science, engineering, and mathematics wrong. (My favorite revelation: Moonfall seems to think that gravity is line-of-sight.) Defensible? Perhaps in a movie that boasts an engaging story and compelling characters, but neither applies here. Emmerich is apparently a big James Cameron fan, since huge chunks of Moonfall are ripped off from The Abyss (with a little Terminator-flavored “AI strikes back against its human creators” concept). Sadly, even the Cameron influence can’t help this movie.

Neither Halle Berry nor Patrick Wilson show any signs of being remotely invested in their roles. This is as clear an example as you’ll find of recognizable actors taking a part for the paycheck. The same is presumably true of Donald Sutherland, who has an incomprehensible cameo in which he provides an information dump then promptly disappears for the rest of the movie. Then there’s British actor John Bradley, best known for playing Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones. In a part originally written with Josh Gad in mind, Bradley manages the unthinkable: to create possibly the most annoying sidekick in the history of annoying sidekicks, knocking co-contenders Jar-Jar Binks and Shia LaBeouf (Mutt Williams) down a peg or two.

Despite this litany of problems, one might argue that the only reason one goes to something like Moonfall is for the special effects, the action, and the disaster sequences. Yet even as a brain-dead showcase for these things, the production fails. Nothing in the movie elevates the pulse. The space ship chase scenes are humdrum and the CGI has the artificiality that often accompanies its improper overuse. As for the Emmerich’s bread-and-butter – widespread destruction – he once again goes after New York City (for those who are counting, this is time #4). This is the least impressive of the quartet; one wonders whether it’s intended as an Easter Egg for Emmerich die-hards since it’s entirely gratuitous. (The movie doesn’t take place in or around Manhattan.)

It gives me no pleasure to eviscerate a movie to this degree, but it would be dishonest to do anything else. Moonfall doesn’t rise to the level of cheesy enjoyability because the level of incompetence evident in its assembly generates nothing beyond two hours of tedium. It most definitely is not “so bad it’s good.” With movies this ugly, I can understand the curiosity factor, but the payoff isn’t worth the sacrifice. There’s nothing worthwhile here; the landscape of wretched banality offers only wasted time and a sense of despair.

Moonfall (US/UK/China, 2022)

Run Time: 2:03
U.S. Release Date: 2022-02-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Disaster Images)
Genre: Science Fiction
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1